UPDATE 2:30 p.m. ET: Suspect may have been influenced by “black metal” music and “its associated history with church burnings,” the state fire marshal said Thursday at a press conference. Matthews has been charged with three counts of simple arson on a religious building. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of 15 years. Matthews has no history of violence or prior arrests. The fires have not yet been labeled a hate crime but the FBI is still investigating.
Holden Matthews, a sheriff deputy’s son, was arrested Wednesday evening as a suspect in the burning of three historically Black churches in one Louisiana parish in a period of just 10 days. The authorities noticed similar patterns among the three attacks, which sparked the theory it was done by the same person.
According to CBS News, Deputy Roy Matthews, the suspect’s father, turned in his own son to authorities after he suspected him of the fires that devastated the Saint Landry Parish.
Holden is interested in black metal music and is the lead singer in a band called Vodka Vultures, according to CBS News. He lives in Saint Landry Parish where the three churches were set on fire. The first fire was on March 26 at St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre. The second fire was on April 2 at the Greater Union Baptist Church and the third was on April 4 at the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church.
However, the religious leaders at the churches are not letting the fires stop worship. Police presence has been heightened at Saint Landry Parish’s churches but no sermons have been cancelled and the pastors of the three burned churches have all said they will rebuild.
“There’s still people that need to be helped, there’s still ministry that has to be done, so we can’t let this setback stop us from doing what God has initially called us to do,” said Pastor Kyle Sylvester of St. Mary’s Baptist Church.
The churches were empty when they were set on fire and no one was hurt, but the NAACP called the church burnings “domestic terrorism” and they were done to specifically target Black people. Both the FBI and the ATF are assisting local police with the ongoing investigation.
“Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass, Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, and Representative Cedric Richmond of Louisiana’s Second Congressional District call on the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and all federal law enforcement agencies to investigate the possible hate crime that resulted in the recent burning of the three historically Black churches in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana,” Bass, Thompson and Richmond said in a joint statement issued today. “All three fires may be the product of domestic terrorism, and places of worship should be protected and safe at all times. It is our expectation that the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies work expeditiously to resolve this matter to restore faith and normalcy among the residents of St. Landry Parish.”
Attacking Black churches has historically been a way to intimidate Black communities, especially during the civil rights era. That violent history has continued on into current times, from the murder of nine people at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church to the 16th Street Church in 1963. In 2013, the most recent year for which federal data is available, the FBI identified 3,563 victims of racially motivated hate crimes and Black victims constituted 66 percent of the total.